Tribute to Jack Kappas (1946-2013) – Jack’s Last Run

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Unlike a straight line, defined as the shortest distance between two points, a circle continues on forever. Like some folks description of God, no beginning, no end, just always was, always is.


Many things in nature are round and cyclic. The shape of our planet, all celestial satellites, billions of suns and zillions of galaxies, all spin forever re-looping back upon their trajectories, over and over like a natural perpetual motion machine.


Such is the way of life and death on our home in a restless universe, as we whirl about the immensity of space. When those of the living lose a loved one, through all the terrible grief of the untimely moment, comfort can also be had in the realization that nothing really is ever lost.  Chief Seattle once said, “There is no death, just a change of worlds.”

So, though none of us know for sure what the Great Mystery will tell us, if anything, when we pass on to be recycled cosmically, the spirit trail we leave behind will still fill the hearts of the living as memories and stories as evidence of our presence in the giant scheme of things.

All will be touched differently as they think back of their experiences with a loved one that has passed, perhaps remembering their face in the maw of a huge whitewater rapid, or a simple smile in the reflection of a calm pool. All add beauty to the circle of life and death, and will always be in motion just as nature intended it so.


Our good friend Jack, a cherished member of a beloved dory boat family, used to row the Glenn Canyon when he worked for Martin Litton’s Grand Canyon Dories back in the days of old.  It was a fitting dory boat name, as Jack was a staunch supporter of breaching four dams on the Snake River to help bring back salmon and the true life spirit of the river. He appreciated science and the natural free flowing way as the proper law of nature.


When he first came to the dory world he came on one of his first apprentice trips with me on the Owyhee River. I remember him in the front of my boat when I entered the wrong side of a bad rock garden and all hell broke loose. Not sure how we made it without a bump, and right-side up, but we did.

Owyhee 6 day April 1 2013 198

So, now that Jack has moved on to navigate the celestial Milky Way, and even bigger cosmic challenges, perhaps I will come to do some apprenticing behind him, in some future time. Such, is the way of the circle.

As an old boatman’s saying claims: “We never grow too old to boat, we just get a little dingy.” That is, before we all eventually step into our eternal spirit boat. As Jack follows those boatmen and boatwomen before him, and we who will eventually all follow, shall the circle be unbroken.

The one thing about legacies, especially left behind by river people, is a fitting line from Philip  Pullman,  taken from the famous dory tale of the speed run through the Grand by fellow boatmen bonded by common dory world friendships,  in a book by Kevin Fedarkos (now also a part time dory guide) entitled the Emerald Mile:

“Thou shalt not” is soon forgotten,

but: “Once upon a time” lasts forever.”

On one of Jack’s boat pads he wrote the line: “I’ll be right back.”  To that I might add, see you in the stars, Jack, once upon a time.



Why Is Movement So Important?

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Nothing happens until something moves.  Action is process. From cradle to grave, no matter the species, doing is living. Done is dead. Movement from point to point, rather place or time, is being, and nature’s way. In fact, in the natural scheme of things the difference between life and death is often defined only by movement. Boiled down, the essence of all life processes on earth are all about predator prey relationships. Everything is food for something else. Eat or be eaten is the basic law of the jungle.

Movement is one of the biggest mechanisms of detection that animals live or die by. It  is why deer or elk stand motionless at the wisp of a foreign sound, or approaching danger. It is what cougars look for as they employ stealth to cruise the woods with, or why herons appear to be like a statue, waiting for a fish to swim by unsuspectingly.

So too are humans influenced by movement. From massive demonstrations caused by giant social movements, to a single experience conjured up at an  individual level, change only happens when something moves. As a river guide and enthusiastic observer of nature, change is the name of the game on every adventure. The sage advice  by a greek philosopher named Heraclitus about never stepping twice into the same river, certainly seems true. After all, the same river is never the same, it is always changing. So too are the experiences that those who choose to float earth’s arteries, appreciate each time they step into a boat.

At so many levels, the world and all life in it is all about movement and change.  For me, the beauty of stepping into rivers and landscapes allow me to experience a vastness of new horizons every time. Each approach to the event horizon that the  lip of a rapids entry, or a precipice at the edge of a cliff provides, allows me to stare directly into the abyss.  What stares back is a reflection of the back of my mind and the curiosity of what lies ahead for every movement of forward progress I will soon make.

Based on past history and survival of each new experience, I know that most likely I will survive to yet another exciting adventure in learning, being, and doing. I can only hope that along the way I might better understand the world around me and that is all engulfing. That is the ultimate challenge and why I appreciate the value of movement.

Even a rainbow will not materialize until storm clouds move to allow the sun to shine through the water falling and also moving from through the  sky.

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Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

What do Honeycombs, Snow Flakes, and Lava Flows Have in Common?

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Short Answer: 6 sides.  All snow flakes have different shapes, but each one has six sides.  Bees form honeycombs that are six-sided, as it is the most efficient and economical shape to save work and space.  So too, when lava flows it cools in columnar basalt forms that have six sides. We see these often along the Salmon River in Idaho, and the Grande Ronde River in Oregon.  Lava columns make great jumping platforms to jump off of into the river.

Both rivers share a geologic region that was partially  shaped by the Colombia River Basalt flows during the Miocene Age, over the last 30 million years. Cracks opened up in the earth’s surface and spewed out huge lava flows that oozed over the landscape.  Nearby rivers were temporarily dammed, until an outlet formed to drain the water, thereby forming canyons below these natural reservoirs.  Sedimentary materials were laid down on the lake bottoms, then when another lava flow erupted, the process repeated itself.

Consequently, a layer cake effect resulted that can be seen as anywhere from 70 -80 different lava flows can be seen in the canyon lands, separated by alternate sedimentary layers.  Of course, all the various layers of lava and sediments have different thicknesses. due to time between flows and how extensive each one was.

Some places in each canyon of the Salmon River and Grande Ronde River, the river cuts directly through a lava layer, and thus the six sides of columnar basalt can be seen as we float along. Rice Creek, where Chinese Miners historically camped  and worked for gold has such a place on the Salmon River.  On the Grande Ronde River, a place called “The Narrows,” where Chief Joseph had his winter camp, is also where basalt columns line both sides of the river.

A side view does not allow a full view of all six sides. Only when an end view is located, where lava flows have been bent or broken, can all six sides be seen. Often these ends form what geologists call pillow basalt, which we often see at river’s edge where they poke barely above the water level.

Nature talks in terms of math and allows humans to see uniformity in laws of the universe.  Great beauty is a result. Though math may seem a challenge in school and a nebulous thing, in nature it is given amazing form.  It makes room for  curious contemplation along the river’s edge.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
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